At their final meeting Monday night, members of Evanston’s 79th City Council voted to reverse the vote they’d taken last month and authorize the city manager to negotiate a contract to sell the city parking lot at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave.

The project as currently proposed by the developers the city has been working with on the project would see an 11-story building constructed on the site that would provide space for more than 500 additional office jobs downtown.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, led the move to revive the project, saying that after some reflection, he’d concluded that the aldermen cut off discussion about the project prematurely.

“We all want something brilliant” on the site, Wilson said, “And I don’t know yet whether the developers can come up with something brillant.”

Referring to objections from opponents of the project made during public comment earlier in the meeting, Wilson said the project is not a “done deal.”

“This is a negotiation,” he added.

Assuming the developer comes up with a proposal satisfactory to members of the new City Council sworn in later Monday night, the project will still need a two-thirds vote to approve the contract for sale the city manager is to negotiate.

Then plans for the building will need to go through the city’s planned development process. That includes a recommendation from the Plan Commission and ultimately another approval vote by the City Council.

With three new faces on the new City Council, it’s difficult to forecast whether the project will make it through those upcoming votes.

On April 24 only aldermen Judy Fiske and Delores Holmes had voted for the project. Monday the only votes cast against it came from aldermen Ann Rainey and Melissa Wynne. Alderman Mark Tendam, who’d voted against the project the first time around, was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Representatives and supporters of the two adjacent non-profit property owners, who have opposed the city’s plans to sell the parking lot for an office development since they were first announced last July, were tipped off to the move to reconsider the decision and spoke against it during public comment.

Lori Osborne of the Evanston History Center said the city’s process “has not been open or transparent.”

“If there’s a need for an office building in Evanston,” Osborne asked, “Why aren’t there developers proposing to build one elsewhere than on the library lot?

Sara Schastok, retired head of the Evanston Community Foundation, said the situation was shaping up to be comparable to what she called “the Harley Clarke debacle.”

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. I call trade marks on the yard signs
    An initial influx of a couple of million dollars. A steady stream of property taxes. A number of new jobs that will stimulate the local economy (restaurants, shops etc..).

    I don’t understand what’s not brilliant about that. A different location? It actually seems like a pretty great location to me. Downtown, close to transportation, the lake. It’s actually kind of no brainer.

    I’m guessing I’ll probably see yard signs popping up around town, “No building in my parking lot that I rarely use”. “No to the building and economic growth of Evanston”. “Keep Evanston’s Parking Lots Beautiful!”.

    1. Idea for Francis Willard House

      The Francis Willard House is an important landmark in Evanston. But it’s only open on Sundays from 1-4 pm and one Thursday a month. 

      Idea – move the house to a different part of Evanston. You pick the site. Demolish Harley Clark mansion and put the Francis Willard House in its place or move it to a park or another lot in Evanston.

      Its current location should be used for an office building. It’s in the central core of downtown Evanston, only a couple of blocks away from the El and Metra.

      Before you dismiss this idea, read “The Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton.


    2. Beautiful Design

      Said it before and I’ll say it again – this is a beautifully designed building and should absolutely be built. The classic, thoughtful design is a nod to Evanston’s past, while the ambitious scope of the project is a vote of confidence in Evanston’s future. I can’t even begin to understand how anybody could think that a surface parking lot is a better use of this piece of land in our central business district. 

      The Frances Willard house will be just fine for the three hours per week it’s open – this shouldn’t even be a part of this conversation. Build the building & embrace the growth.

  2. Simple as it seems

    ~~Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. If only it were…
    By not taking the time to fully investigate and present an issue’s complexity, the issue is not given a fair airing. It’s so much easier to make a snap judgement, and that’s our right. It’s the “fire, aim, ready” approach It takes a lot less energy.
    Supposedly, by the City Council’s most recent decision regarding the negotiation to sell its land (our land, really) for the development of an office building, it is allowing greater public input. So let’s do that. Let’s hear what impact this will have on the Woman’s Club of Evanston, Evanston Public Library patrons, The McManus Student Housing Center, the WCTU Local Historic District, and Frances Willard House, a National Historic Landmark. My hunch is they will all be impacted differently. Let’s anticipate traffic impact instead of coming back and trying to remedy problems later at greater cost. Let’s think about what the City has to gain in terms of revenue. Let’s investigate the real potential to fill this office building. Is there already a major tenant lined up? Are the occupancy numbers realistic? Let’s learn a little more along the way. Let’s do this right and openly and thoughtfully.
    I know this is long. Thank you for reading it.

    1. Or talk it to death?

      Hi Louise,

      The proposal to redevelop the library lot has already been under public discussion for more than 10 months. Evanston Now has done a dozen stories about it during that time, and the public has heard repeatedly from representatives of every group you mention, except — to the best of my recollection — from Northwestern University, the owner of the McManus building.

      Nonetheless, and assuming the proposal continues to move forward, we can likely expect six months to a year of additional discussion about it before a final City Council vote on a planned development for the site.

      Preliminary answers to all the questions you pose are already out there. We can expect more detailed ones to emerge if the process moves forward.

      — Bill

      1. Hi Bill,

        Hi Bill,

        I’ve read your past articles and responses. Why is the request of a thorough examination being characterized by your response’s title as talking it to death? (Rhetorical question.) Obviously, Alderman Don Wilson and 5 other Council members don’t think there’s been enough talk yet. That’s why they took the action they did. Two weeks ago, this project was dead in the water. 

        It seems odd to me that my post was the only one that got a response from you. You could have also tried to explain the physical, contextual and financial ramifications of moving a historic structure from its original site, for example. There is obviously more educating to do on this issue.  

        Nothing is ever as simple as its seems.

        1. Hi Louise,

          Hi Louise,

          I would agree with you that moving historic buildings to a different location is not as simple as it might seem. But I’m no expert on that subject, and nobody I can recall other than the one person you mention has actually suggested it, so it didn’t seem that I could offer an informed response or needed to provide one.

          I am something of an expert on how long this project has already been under discussion.

          How long do you think the “thorough examination” of the project you want should take? I suggested the normal progression of review is likely to take an additional six months to a year on top of the over 10 months already devoted to it. Do you think that’s insufficient? Why?

          Perhaps you’re suffering from analysis paralysis?

          — Bill

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